To the mainstream music world, he was merely known as the piano player for Sheryl Crow’s breakthrough album “Tuesday Night Music Club.” But to anybody who knew him personally or knows him through his music, he was more than that. Much more. Kevin Gilbert was an amazing musical talent, and a genius songwriter and composer who left us all too soon at the age of 29 years young in 1996 before potentially reaching the top of the charts with his music.
Kevin Gilbert started composing when he was 12, while playing around with tape recorders as he experimented with multitrack recording. He grew up listening to the likes of Burt Bacharach and Seals & Croft, but he was introduced by an uncle of his to progressive rock with the album “Foxtrot” by Genesis. Soon afterward he discovered other progressive rock greats, including Yes and Gentle Giant. By high school he had fronted a trio called NRG where he sang and played keyboards, and wrote music blending synth pop with progressive rock. NRG had recorded one album.
After high school, Kevin Gilbert enrolled at UCLA where he studied film and left after one year to concentrate on his music career, to which he landed a full time gig as a keyboardist for Eddie Money’s backup band. After this stint, he began writing and recording music for a project of his which would eventually be known as the band Giraffe. This progressive rock band, which critics have described as resembling Genesis had Peter Gabriel remained in the band throughout the 80’s, had produced only two albums independently, yet Giraffe managed to win the Yamaha Soundcheck International Rock Competition in 1988. This event caught the attention of producer Pat Leonard who invited Gilbert to start a songwriting duo project that would be known as Toy Matinee.
The success of Toy Matinee, with their sole self-titled album selling 200K copies worldwide, and Pat Leonard’s role as a high profile pop producer led to Kevin Gilbert’s involvement in sessions with the likes of pop icons such as Madonna and Michael Jackson. After such successful comings, he felt a calling to begin work on his first solo album which he spent the first couple of years struggling to perfect according to his taste. He took time off of his solo album to join the Tuesday Music Club with friends and colleagues including his then girlfriend at the time Sheryl Crow.
The Tuesday Music Club wrote songs together and played locally around Los Angeles before recording what would become Sheryl Crow’s debut album “Tuesday Night Music Club.” After completion of the album, Kevin Gilbert’s relationship with Crow had deteriorated and she replaced her backup band thus leaving the members of the Tuesday Music Club in the dust.
After this disparaging episode, Kevin Gilbert reformed Giraffe(with only one original member beside Gilbert) for Progfest ’94 to perform the Genesis album “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” with Gilbert taking the role of Peter Gabriel as Rael. Gilbert eventually completed his masterpiece of a debut album "Thud" in 1995, and during this session he recorded a cover version of the Led Zeppelin song “Kashmir,” which was omitted from the Led Zeppelin tribute album “Encomium” at the last minute but gained widespread popularity among radio in Los Angeles. During this time in 1995, Sheryl Crow’s debut album picked up a number of Grammy Awards including Record of the Year for the song “All I Wanna Do,” which Gilbert co-wrote.
After performing in promotion of the album "Thud," Kevin Gilbert began writing for a couple of projects; one was for an industrial rock band called Kaviar that Gilbert had formed with colleagues and the other was a follow-up to his debut album, a rock opera about the success and downfall of a rock musician named Johnny Virgil who was chewed up and spit out by the record industry, and left out on the streets.
Sadly, he never lived to see the day of the release of what would become his genius concept album “The Shaming of The True.” Kevin Gilbert was found dead in his home in 1996. The cause of his death, according to reports, was autoerotic asphyxiation. It’s truly an undignified death, I know, but I choose to remember Kevin Gilbert for his music and encourage everyone else to do the same.
While “Shaming” was largely completed at the time of his death it took a couple of his former bandmates and colleagues, under the request of the Kevin Gilbert Family Estate, to finish and without the aid of detailed notes made completion even more of a challenge. Sadly, and ironically, Kevin Gilbert’s manager was contacted by Genesis’ manager with the hopes of recruiting Gilbert as the replacement for Phil Collins(who left the band in 1996) after his death. Much of Kevin’s unreleased music was compiled and released(see “Nuts” and “Bolts”), and his older releases - with the exception of Toy Matinee, which is held under the rights of Warner Bros. - have been remastered and re-released.
It should be noted that Kevin Gilbert was also a producer for a number of bands around the Los Angeles area, and he had composed music for film and television. Former Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy is a fan of both Gilbert and Toy Matinee, and had contacted him to produce their album “Falling Into Infinity” before his untimely death. Gilbert even recorded cover versions of songs by Yes and Genesis for a couple of tribute albums, and one of his songs from “Shaming” was featured on a tribute album for the band Gentle Giant.
As for how I’d gotten into the music of Kevin Gilbert, I’ll admit that it didn’t have an immediate impact on me. I’d listened to a few songs from “Thud,” but I wasn’t drawn in right away. It wasn’t until I’d listened to his earlier music in Toy Matinee and Giraffe – and even NRG – that I was totally sucked in. He made use of rich harmonies both vocally and instrumentally, and he arranged his songs to be more complex than your typical pop tune. I took a chance and bought a copy of “Thud,” as well as “The Shaming of The True,” and soon discovered more great music along the way. It was a purchase worth every penny. I also have a great deal of respect for recording artists who can pick up any instrument and learn to play it in a short period of time. When Gilbert produced an album for Keith Emerson, he suggested adding some clarinets to a song but they had no immediate access to a clarinetist. There happened to be a clarinet in the studio, so he learned how to play the instrument within a half an hour and performed it himself on the recording. Quite impressive if you ask me.
If anyone is curious about the music of Kevin Gilbert, check out his website at www.kevingilbert.com where you can listen to clips of his genius music and purchase online. And no, I’m not working for the Kevin Gilbert Family Estate. I’m simply a fan who wants to make his works known to anyone and everyone searching for more great music to add to their music library. You will not be disappointed.
RIP Kevin Gilbert (1966-1996)
The Shaming of The True (2000)
Live at the Troubadour (1999)